September 15, 2019 at First Presbyterian Church of Unionville, NY (BPC)
[Jhn 6:1-15 ESV] 1 After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. 2 And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. 3 Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. 5 Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. 7 Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” 10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. 11 Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” 15 Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
We come now to one of the most familiar stories in the gospels – Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the five thousand. Part of its familiarity can be perhaps attributed to the fact that it is a story recounted in each of the four Gospels. The story however is simply memorable in its own right. We all sit back in wonder when we hear of this miracle, wondering exactly when and where the fish and the loaves were multiplied. Did they increase in number just as Jesus was handing them out, or more likely as they were being passed around? The accounts of the Gospels do not tell us these specifics, but they certainly tell us that this was a miracle. We can have nothing of the attempts to downplay this event as something less than miraculous, for “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is come into the world!”
As for the context, we find Jesus (and his disciples with him) heading to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. John notes that it is also called the Sea of Tiberias. Now Herod Antipas (the son of Herod the Great) had founded the city of Tiberias, naming it after the Roman Emperor Tiberias (ruled 14 AD – 37 AD). The nearby Sea of Galilee soon then came to be called the Sea of Tiberias after this prominent city on its shores.
John doesn’t usually repeat any stories that Matthew, Mark, or Luke have told. But here, the feeding of the five thousand, is an event he recounts even though it is found in all three of the other gospels as well. Telling the story himself helps John to explain the sermon Jesus gives the next day, and which is recounted later in this chapter. That sermon—which we will get to shortly in this series on John’s Gospel—is the sermon where Jesus explains that he in fact himself is the Bread of Life.
But as Jesus traveled to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, a large crowd has begun to follow him. As the text says, they followed him “because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick.” They do not follow him because he is the Son of God, but because of his miracles. One commentator explains of the crowd, “They were thrill-seekers who failed the grasp the true significance of Jesus’ miraculous signs. … They flocked to see his works, but refused to accept his words.”
Well, Jesus goes up on a mountain and sits down with his disciples. This is where it seems he (in his human nature) may have wanted some peace and quiet. But the crowd was coming toward him.
Now, if you are an introvert like me, this is a particular stressful situation. We introverts would like about 25 hours per day of personal time. Small group discussion is ok. We could sit with 12 others and that might be ok, though a bit whelming if not overwhelming. But life comes at us and calls us to interact with others and to participate in society.
For me a crowd approaching would be quite stress-inducing. I think of the story my grandfather told. He drove a tank destroyer for the Americans in World War II. One day, some days after the Normandy landings in France, he was up on a high hill and looked back at the coming American Army. And he saw thousands of ships, planes, tanks, jeeps, artillery pieces, and soldiers coming his way. If it was quiet then it would soon get very loud. The entire United States Army, of which he was part, was on the move. A crowd coming toward you when you want a retreat might feel like the war is coming your war.
Well, Jesus quickly adapts to the situation. As the crowd approaches Jesus he has concern enough for their physical welfare that he asks his disciple Philip “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” The text tells us “He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.”
I wonder if perhaps Philip was the treasurer of the group. He answered Jesus saying “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” This was a large crowd indeed. Two hundred denarii is two hundred days wages. But two hundred days wages can’t feed five thousand men plus likely thousands more women and children.
While Philip counted the cash, Andrew counted the goods. He found a boy with five barley loaves and two fish. But like Philip, Andrew concluded that they were far short of what was necessary to feed the crowd. He says of the fish and loves, “What are they for so many?”
So a desperate situation was brewing. At least in the minds of the disciples. Jesus knew from the beginning what he was planning to do. He was planning a miracle. His fourth now recorded in John’s Gospel. For those who are counting we now have (1) the miracle of the water turned win, (2) the miracle of healing of the official’s son, (3) the miracle of the healing of the invalid and the pool of Bethesda, and (4) the present miracle in view—that of the miraculous multiplying of the fish and loaves.
Adding to the desperation was the fact that it was late in the day. The chance to find food was nearing the end for the day and all would have to go to sleep hungry if nothing became available. Have you had a time like this? I’ve had a number of desperate evenings myself in the wilderness, late in the evening, wondering, wondering, wondering “where is that shelter or campsite?” Or maybe you’ve driven across the country and it is late and you’re wondering if have missed the window to find a still open restaurant. As the end of the day approaches, and you are away from home, desperation increases.
Certainly there is parallel here in John’s account with the Exodus account. There the people said to Moses “Did you take us out to the desert to die?” “There was food aplenty in Egypt.” But, as God provided manna (small bread-like wafers) to those following Moses, so he would miraculously provide food to the crowd now following Jesus.
Jesus, very calmly says “Have the people sit down.”
That John tells us, “there was much grass in the place” highlights his being an eyewitness of the event and correlates well with the earlier statement that the Passover was at hand, for the Passover is in the Spring when the grass is not yet been scorched by the sun.
John also tells us now that the crowd was about five thousand in number. This is the number of men in the crowd. Guesses as to the total number of people in the crowd, including women and children, vary widely. I suppose on the minimum end it could be that just the men are out following Jesus while the women and children are at home. But that can’t be totally true as there was at least one boy there who had the fish and loaves. On the maximum end I’ve found commentators suggesting there could be as many as 15,000 or 20,000 people in the crowd. I looked up online the average capacity of NBA — National Basketball Association — arenas. They have an average capacity of 18,966. So that is about how big this crowd is. About the size of the crowd at a full basketball arena. And they’ve got a few coins, five loaves, and two fish.
Now, as for the miracle itself, the text says:
11 Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten.
Not only was there then sufficient food, but an abundance!
So what happened? [REPEAT: So what happened?] Jesus simply had performed a miracle. And that is what the text tells us. It calls it “a sign.” And this sign so impressed the people that they called Jesus “the Prophet” and had their sights set on making him king.
When they speak of “The Prophet” (and not just a regular prophet) they had in mind Deuteronomy 18:15-19 (cf. Acts 3:20-22) when Moses said to the people:
“The Lord you God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen.”
Jesus surely was this prophet. And he in fact is king also. The king of kings. So the people perceived him correctly … but only to a point, for they wanted to set Jesus over an earthly kingdom. But Christ’s kingdom is not of this world.
They wanted someone to deliver them from the Romans, but they needed someone to deliver them from their sins.
They wanted an earthly deliverer, but Christ is delivers eternal life.
And that is what Jesus brings. He brings eternal life. The miracle of the multiplication of the fish and loaves is merely a sign pointing to the greater reality that Christ can spiritual feed his people eternally.
They wanted food, and in his kindness Christ provided it. But it was to point to the truth that Christ brings eternal food. It is just like when Jesus said to the Samaritan woman “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.” We could make a parallel and say “whoever eats of the bread of life will never be hungry again.”
It is clear that Jesus does not bring what the people want, he brings what His people need.
This provides for us a good application. And I’ll have three applications, somewhat related to each other.
1. The Lord does not give us what we want but gives us what we need. [REPEAT]
Paul tells us that “all things work together for good for those who are called according to his purpose.”
You—at least the you before being a Christian—wanted power, money, fame, etc. But the Lord gave you in ABUNDANCE his grace. You got what you need, and now know that this is much better than what you formerly wanted. Now, as Christian, you should want grace. You should seek first the kingdom of God.
Because “the lord does not give us what we want but gives us what we need” therefore,
2. We should seek His will, not our own. [REPEAT]
Look at Christ here as an example, especially for us introverts.
Remember Jesus was seeking a place of retirement—some alone time. And at the end of our account we find that he did “withdraw again to the mountain by himself.” But for a while “Jesus and His disciples did not find the peaceful seclusion they sought.” When this happened did he whine and complain? Did he panic? No. He was called to do otherwise. And we should make do with what circumstances come our way.
Calvin says: “We are therefore taught by this example to form our plans in conformity with the course of events, but in such a manner that, if the result be different from what we expected, we may not be displeased that God is above us, and regulates everything according to his pleasure.”
How often are you upset when the day doesn’t go per YOUR plan? Have you considered what God’s plan might be? In being upset when things don’t go your way, are you upset with God’s plan?
3. Trust in the Lord’s plans.
Have you been in a desperate situation, unable to see any way out? Have you found that the Lord provided a way out that you did not know existed!!? How many times have you thought “my life is over.” Like a teenager saying this “my life is OVER.” You’ve been dumped, you’ve gotten a speeding ticket, you failed a test or a class, you’ve lost your job, and you see no way out. But it is some years later, and looking back, how foolish was your doubting the Lord? Did he not have a better plan? Did he not bring you through your troubles?
Let us not seek our own earthly kingdoms, but let us seek the heavenly kingdom of Christ.
Trust in the Lord.
Trust in Jesus who alone feeds the needs of men.